Creating a Research Log – The Why & How

Your research log is like a road map.

A research log is like a road map for your research: it tells you where you’ve been and where you will be going.  It keeps you from repeating searches you’ve already done or by spending money ordering records you already have.

Now I know what you’re thinking – It takes too much time away from the rush of researching!  Yes, it does take a moment to fill in the research log.  But think of how much you benefit by keeping one!  Once keeping a research log is habit, you won’t even think about the time it takes to fill it out.

So now that you’ve decided to use a research log (you are going to use a research log, aren’t you?), how are you going to keep it?  There are so many options these days: on paper, on the computer, in your genealogy program, and even in “the cloud”.  So what will you choose:

  • Paper: This is an easy option for someone who wants to be able to easily print a blank research log from a website or from something you create yourself in a word processing or spreadsheet program.  You can fill out a paper form.  You can take it with you to research sites like libraries, archives, courthouses, etc.  These sheets can even be stored in your paper files.
  • Computer: You could also create a research log in a spreadsheet or word processing program and save it to your computer’s hard drive.  Anytime you need to add another search, you just type it into your computer and click save.
  • In “The Cloud”: You could easily create a research log on something like Google Docs or Zoho Docs (both free!).  These documents will then be stored on the internet and can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection.  You can update your research log from your home desktop computer or from the laptop you take with you to research locations.
  • In Your Genealogy Program: I can’t speak for all computer genealogy programs, since I don’t use all computer genealogy programs.  My computer genealogy program of choice is RootsMagic.  RootsMagic has a feature that allows you to create “to do” lists for each couple and individual in your database.  I use this feature to create to-do items and when they are complete, I can record if I found anything or not.  This serves as my research log because I like to keep all of my genealogy research together.

Do you keep a research log?  Will you start to keep one?  Where do you keep your research log?  Tell me about it in the comments section.

Photo Credit: Photo is from Artua of

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12 responses to “Creating a Research Log – The Why & How

  1. I’ve actually created a spreadsheet in Google Docs tracking which census records I have for my ancestors. You can view it here:

    It is color coded as follows:

    Black – was not alive during that census

    Blue – was not in the U.S. during that census (immigrated later)

    Green – Union Veteran’s 1890 census; was not counted because they did not serve

    Yellow – I have made an exhaustive search of the census and am as certain as I can be that they were missed during enumeration

    Orange – everything is orange until I have 1) downloaded the census image and cataloged it in the correct computer genealogy folder; 2) added the data to my RootsMagic database; and 3) cited it correctly in my RootsMagic database

    White – I have fulfilled the requirements listed under Orange

    You can also see that I have created a Michigan State Census spreadsheet (see tabs at bottom of spreadsheet), although I haven’t added data yet. I will also create a New York State Census spreadsheet, plus one for Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, as all those areas had censuses in which my ancestors would have been enumerated.
    Miriam Robbins Midkiff´s last blog post ..Memorial Grant to Assist Young Genealogists Attending 2011 SCGS Jamboree

  2. Great post and great topic. I know I should keep one and I have also started one using MS Excel. So far, I have not been very consistent in keeping it up to date. I also use Roots Magic, but have not found the to do list very convenient to use. Maybe I need to give that another look, because, like you, I would rather keep everything in one spot.
    Will Haskell´s last blog post ..Governor Frederick Holbrook from Vermont

  3. I need to start doing this but have not. There is a great collection of forms at

    My goal is to start using them.

  4. I started an elaborate Excel spreadsheet a few months ago which is working well for me. It’s based on the presentation Sam Ward gave at Jamboree last June (which I purchased from Jamb).

    My challenge is to do a better job of recording the results (both positive and negative) of the online searches that I do.
    Michelle Goodrum´s last blog post ..KISS – Keep It Short Silly on Sorting Saturday

  5. The online research is a challenge for me to track as well. Brainstorming here, but I wonder if clipping a page to Evernote with a tag or to a specific folder might work – at least as a repository until the info was transferred to a research log.
    Susan´s last blog post ..Sisters – Wordless Wednesday

    • Susan – That would definitely work for when you got a positive return. But what if your search rendered nothing? You should record both positive and negative searches. However, it is better than nothing.

  6. Great information and I too really like your spreadsheet layout. Like others I need to start doing a much better job with these logs too. Time is precious and I have found myself back in the same place more than once. Time to get better organized with this. Thanks!

  7. I have not yet utilized the to-do lists in RM4. I have been terrible at keeping logs or records of where I found anything!

    One thing I did notice, I use GenSmarts with RM4, and it allows you to attach what it finds to the to-do lists.

    So now I should have no use to use GenSmarts to figure what I need to research, and RM4, to log it!

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